Fulham manager Rene Meulensteen believes Manchester City’s David Silva fully deserves to be nicknamed the ‘little genius’.Manuel Pellegrini’s title-chasing side visit Craven Cottage as strong favourites on Saturday and the Whites boss is full of admiration for the Spanish playmaker, who he sees as similar to Chelsea’s Juan Mata.“I’m a very big fan of Silva. I really like that style of player – one who finds spaces all the time, and just does things fluently,” the Dutchman said.“Players like Silva punish the thought that those with a lack of size and strength should be overlooked.“They call Silva the little genius – and he is. He is definitely a guy that gives Man City rhythm. He comes up with solutions in behind.”Meulensteen added: “Juan Mata is a similar sort of player – not the tallest or the strongest – and he had an excellent season last year.“It comes down to two things; a quick mind and quick feet.”And Meulensteen expects City and Chelsea to emerge as the two main contenders for the Premier League title this season.“City will be strongly pushing for the title. It’s going to be tight with them and Chelsea if you ask me,” he said.“They’re a great club with great players and we have to test ourselves. It’s a task for us, especially on the back of their performances against Bayern Munich and Arsenal.”Follow West London Sport on TwitterFind us on Facebook
Las Vegas >> Before Thursday night, Nellie Miller, of Cottonwood, hadn’t competed in the Thomas & Mack Center since 2010.Miller made a triumphant return to the Wrangler National Finals Rodeo Thursday, winning Round 1 of the barrel racing in 13.64 seconds.“This round win is a tremendous start to the week and it gives you a lot of confidence in that arena,” said Miller, sitting in third place in the world standings. “It is what we came here to do. Everything worked out. I didn’t win any rounds …
SAN FRANCISCO — Despite knowing since February the organization would be tasked with hiring a new manager this offseason, the Giants are one of two teams left that have yet to finalize a decision.Of the eight franchises that set out to hire a manager this fall, only the Giants and Pirates are still searching for their desired candidate.After a horrible second half, the Pirates recently fired their team president and general manager and remain in total disarray. The Giants aren’t in …
I suffer from panic attacks. At least, I used to – I’ve not had a single one since I got my iPhone. And I’m convinced these two things are related.You may not know this, but panic attacks are surprisingly common. According to a study backed by the National Institutes For Health (NIH), 1 in 8 Americans will experience a panic attack at least once during their lifetime. Perhaps any smartphone would help, or even any device capable of creating both distractions and social connections. For me, though, having my iPhone always nearby, always on, its many features and functions ready to occupy my mind, my eyes, ears and fingertips, is often enough to reduce the onset of an attack. The device seems to draw out, bit by bit, all those fears, worries and repetitive patterns that used to conspire to throw me into despair, fear and then panic.If it really is the iPhone that’s helped mitigate my symptoms, and I believe it is, then perhaps others who suffer from similar attacks – and own a smartphone – can also find some relief.What Is A Panic Attack?The Mayo Clinic defines a panic attack as:A sudden episode of intense fear that triggers severe physical reactions when there is no real danger or apparent cause. Panic attacks can be very frightening. When panic attacks occur, you might think you’re losing control, having a heart attack or even dying.In a panic attack, the overwhelming sense of fear, as real as it is inexplicable, wreaks havoc not only on your psyche but on your daily contribution to the world. An attack can strike seemingly at random: at home, with friends at a bar, at work, standing in line at Starbucks; anywhere, anytime. That’s what makes them so debilitating. Twice, I went to the hospital, convinced my symptoms meant an impending drop-dead heart attack. Both times I was told I was not having a heart attack. Eventually, I was diagnosed as suffering from anxiety disorder – which can lead to panic attacks. To treat anxiety, doctors recommend exercise, meditation, more sleep and visualization techniques. For those who suffer full-blown panic attacks, professional help is suggested, as is medication. I was prescribed Prozac. Since getting an iPhone, however – though my case absolutly may not be typical – I have been able to gradually reduce my daily Prozac to its lowest available dosage. I expect to soon be off it entirely. I have also stopped seeing a therapist.Using The iPhone To Improve My (Mental) HealthThe potential for the iPhone to aid physical healthcare delivery and diagnostics is well documented. The market for smartphone tools that aid mental health is far less robust. But they do exist. For example, the iPhone app Viary, leverages traditional cognitive behavior therapy techniques:Together with a therapist, Viary’s clients choose specific actions that will help them achieve a desired goal. For example a client may decide that exercising, eating healthier food, and listening to classical music makes them feel less depressed. Viary sets reminders for these behaviors – walk for 15 minutes every morning, take a vegetarian lunch, tune into some Beethoven etc, – and the app then collects data on these completed actions. Therapists or coaches can then monitor a client’s progress in real time and even respond. For me, however, I’m convinced that simply possessing an iPhone has improved my mental health. No matter what symptom crops up, using the iPhone helps calm me down and makes me feel more connected. If I feel inexplicably worried, no matter where I am, no matter who I am with – and this is out of necessity – I pull out my iPhone and start texting. I later apologize to those I am with.If I feel alone, I call someone. If I get angry, I play a game – preferably online, with friends. When I am bored, I read on my Kindle app. When I can’t get a song out of my head, I take to Twitter. If my breathing seems off, I make reminder lists of what I need to do for the day, the week, the rest of my life. If the feelings persist, I open Evernote and scroll through all the notes that have a “thankful” tag attached to them.If I feel like I can’t leave the house, I check my Fitbit app, find out how many steps I’ve taken that day, then tell myself I will go outside just long enough to add 1,000 more to my total. This usually works. Sometimes, when things get really dark, I scroll through my photos, which makes me happy. If that’s not enough, I make notes to myself of everything I am grateful for – then email them, knowing my wife can later access the account. And when I feel good, good enough even to help others, I sit in the sun, pull out my iPhone and write a blog post. Like now.Image courtesy of Shutterstock. Related Posts Role of Mobile App Analytics In-App Engagement What it Takes to Build a Highly Secure FinTech … Why IoT Apps are Eating Device Interfaces brian s hall Tags:#health#iPhone#smartphones The Rise and Rise of Mobile Payment Technology
The art martIf creativity knows no bounds, should art then be limited to just canvas and paper? Not if our leading painters can help it. If you are an ardent art lover who can’t think beyond blockbuster exhibits, then here’s something that would interest you. Limited edition mugs featuring works,The art martIf creativity knows no bounds, should art then be limited to just canvas and paper? Not if our leading painters can help it. If you are an ardent art lover who can’t think beyond blockbuster exhibits, then here’s something that would interest you. Limited edition mugs featuring works of 50 top Indian artists are now up for grabs. For an annual fundraising event held by People For Animals (PFA), an animal welfare organisation, prominent painters have come together to create mugs depicting their signature styles. The series titled The Master Collection includes porcelain mugs with artworks by fabled names from the past and present including Raja Ravi Varma, F. N. Souza, Paresh Maity and G. R. Iranna. The mugs come in an assortment of shapes and sizes, priced at Rs 500, each. The line will be launched on August 19 at The Lalit in the Capital.Garden gloryGarden furniture has developed a fine design vocabulary of its own over time and today, patios and gardens are getting rebranded as stylish lounge areas. To accessorise the space, check out Italybased landscape designer Patrizia Pozzi’s range of outdoor furniture pieces, made out of laser-cut, rolled and welded sheet metal that are both imaginative and playful. Titled Radici, the collection made for Italian furniture company De Castelli, includes gazebos, tables, armchairs, coffee tables, benches and stools, with climbing plants providing decorative accents. Flaunting geometric lines, invisible welding and stylish upholstering, these pieces are definitely high on glamour. Visit www.decastelli.com for more information on these one-of-a-kind designs.True coloursDelhi-based design studio Purple Jungle blends kitsch and artistic flair in its line of trays, coasters, cushions and posters. The cotton cushions get frill trimmings from old sarees while colourful prints of elephants, tigers, auto rickshaws and ascetics are embossed on the covers. The label, launched in 2010 by Emeline Grasset and Iris Strill, is inspired by Indian truck art and other local characters like the neighbourhood barber. The cushions, priced at Rs 1,150 each, are available in lifestyle stores across the country.Hide and seekInterior design label Casa Paradox pays homage to Indian craftsmanship through their lacquered wood and metal screens. Highly useful as space dividers, these decorative furniture pieces sport traditional Indian designs like steel-cut jaali work accented with hanging birds in gold and silver tints. With colourful panels and ethnic detailing, the screens help in setting up a private space that is stylish to boot. What’s more, you can create a visual break in your living area by placing them in strategic locations. Take your pick of vibrant colours for a stylish and perfectly-coordinated look. Price of these designer screens are on request.Touch of glassMurano glass artisan Paolo Venini is revered in design circles for marrying vintage charm and contemporary lines to create this handkerchief vase. Inspired by the organic form of an upturned handkerchief, the sculptural piece has been crafted using the famed Zanfirico technique. In this process, a filigree effect is achieved by heating glass rods, twisting them together and encasing them in clear glass. Priced at $1,975 (Rs 87,326), it is retailed by Sweden-based firm Modernity that specialises in furniture, lighting, ceramics and glass. Log on to www.modernity.se for details.Icing on the cakeProduct designer Mukul Goyal is sold on table decor. Continuing his fling with human figurines, the National Institute of Design (NID) alumnus has created a cake dish and server styled out of chromed brass and steel. The collection tilted The Cake Walk pays tribute to a lesser known dance form by the same name, which has its origins in the plantation slave community of the US. Functional yet lively, the cake server is priced at Rs 1,110 while the cake dish, available in two sizes, costs Rs 2,620 and Rs 4,670.Wall wondersBenetti Stone Philosophy has taken a lead in green design by introducing tiles made of ecological resin embedded with natural moss. Measuring 29.8cm x 29.8 cm, these modular tiles can be used only on indoor walls. Available in a range of geometric patterns, the tiles don’t need water, fertiliser or natural light. Check www.benettistone.com for more.advertisement
About the authorPaul VegasShare the loveHave your say Angel Gomes thrilled to see action in Man Utd winby Paul Vegas10 months agoSend to a friendShare the loveAngel Gomes was delighted with his cameo for Manchester United in their 3-1 win over Huddersfield Town.Gomes, who was handed his Premier League debut by Jose Mourinho in 2017, came on as a second half substitute to replace Juan Mata with United 3-0 up.And the 18-year-old was asked by MUTV what advice his manager Ole Gunnar Solskjaer gave to him before he came on.”He told me enjoy myself get on the pitch,” Gomes explained. “He said to come inside and get on the ball and get as many touches as you can and enjoy the atmosphere and I tried to do that coming on and it was a great experience.”The academy graduate is hopeful of more opportunities under United’s interim manager as he has promised to give more youth team players a chance.”Of course it’s just the start. It was good me and Jimmy travelled last game too, so to travel again and to get some minutes was an added bonus,” Gomes said. “I think United is about bringing youth through and I think with the new manager and how things are going it’s there for the taking really.”He’s a legend at the club and the fans will get behind him because of the things he won at the club and how great of a player he was. For me to learn from a manager like Solskjaer is great for me and the other younger lads because growing up we were watching him. It’s a great feeling.”
For the past few seasons, the best defenders in the NBA have been some combination of Draymond Green, Rudy Gobert and Kawhi Leonard. But with Leonard and Gobert out for all or much of the season so far and Green’s production falling off just a bit, we’ve got some new blood in contention to be the NBA’s best defender.To put a number to this, we’ll use data from Second Spectrum that shows us both the total number of shots defended by a player and how much he affected those shots. There are a few ways to get at this, but we’re going to use “quantified shot probability” (qSP) — which determines the expected value of shots defended using shot distance, shot location and defender position, among other variables — and “quantified shot making” (qSM) — which subtracts the expected effective field goal percentage on those shots from the actual eFG to determine how much of an effect the defender had. In other words, does the defender make shots worse? And if so, by how much?We’ve used metrics like this in the past, but the rub with this set is it adjusts for who’s taking the shot, meaning weak defenders who guard bad shooters don’t get as much credit, and defenders tasked with guarding superstars aren’t punished for their assignment — the star’s excellence is baked into the stat.The per possession numbers will look a little different from the overall effect — players like Tarik Black and Marreese Speights have defended a lot of shots very well in short minutes — but this chart should demonstrate that there is a wide spread on defender effect. What we’re missing here, though, is how many shots a defender actually affects. Here we’ve got total shots as well as the qSM (the difference a defender makes on each shot) plotted against each other to show who’s affecting how many shots to what degree. This isn’t perfect. For one, a great defender doesn’t simply challenge shots — he denies them from happening, forcing a team to reset its offense. But by the same token, great defenders also work their way back into plays, affecting shots by playing smart help defense and covering acres of ground. Another thing these numbers don’t reflect the is overall quality of the shot — there are a few defenders who don’t depress value of each individual shot by as much as others but who force opponents into low-quality shots in general (through hard work and smart positioning) so that the overall effect is the same. Kevin Durant, Golden State WarriorsThe Warriors are unfair. Draymond Green — for my money the best defensive player in the league — has for whatever reason been a little off during the first quarter of the season, possibly because the Warriors can sleepwalk to a bare-minimum 2-seed. He’s not been bad, mind you, just not quite as dominant as usual. That’s left quite a lot of slack in the Golden State scheme, and Durant has picked up more than his fair share of it. Golden State ranks eighth in defensive rating, down from second a season ago, but that almost feels like a threat more than a falloff given how flat the team has looked at times. Beware, it says, this is a top 10 defense even while almost completely half-assing things, just on the virtue of Kevin Durant showing up to work. Durant has been improving as a defender for years, going back to his time with the Thunder. (If you ever go back and watch the 2016 series between OKC and San Antonio, watch Durant on defense — he was the best defensive big man in that series.) His style is also entirely his own: KD gives up relatively “great” shots — ones his opponents would be expected to turn into 52.3 eFG against an average defender, or about what Austin Rivers gives you as a defender. Not great. But because Durant is so long, so mobile and so smart positionally, the actual shots against him fall at a rate of just 45.2 eFG. This still happens within the overall Golden State system — Andre Iguodala and Steph Curry have similar opponent eFG numbers, albeit on fewer shots defended — but Durant’s role has him not only locking down his own man but also covering up for lapses by his teammates.Green may remain the more important defender for the Warriors — he’s the anchor, and what he does from his position is impossible to replicate. But Durant’s play so far has been the strongest on a Golden State defense that should end up being a top-3-type unit, at minimum. Honorable mentionGiannis Antetokounmpo and Joel Embiid have both been outstanding through the first quarter of the season, but they don’t have quite the same track record as some of the players listed above. Just the same, neither seems to be a fluke. We’ll be a little more certain how permanent their new defensive excellence is by the All-Star break. The same goes for Kristaps Porzingis, who last season was in the tier just behind Gobert and Green for overall defensive value, but this year fell off early before making up some ground in the past few weeks.Some others seem more like early-season mirages — Josh Richardson, Gary Harris and Eric Gordon are all having excessively good years by the metrics but are playing way above the levels they had in previous seasons.Check out our latest NBA predictions. Anthony Davis, New Orleans PelicansFrom the time he was a rookie, Anthony Davis has had all the tools. He’d block shots and steal alley-oops and tug on his shorts and check the opposing point guard 30 feet from the basket. He came into the league as a destructive defensive force, but for reasons ranging from injury to scheme to sheer offensive burden, Davis’s aggregate effect on the defensive end hasn’t always lived up to the promise of those moments. This season, it has. Davis ranks seventh in the league in shots defended overall, and the defense gets 12.7 points per 100 possessions worse when he sits down. That’s nearly double his defensive on/off split from last season, which was already by far the best of his career.Partly this is because of his partnership with DeMarcus Cousins. Defensive intensity hasn’t always been Cousins’s strong point, and that’s still true today, but he has defended the most shots in the league, and done so while holding opponents to a middle-of-the-road 51.4 eFG on shots he defends. Not great, certainly, but it’s a respectable backstop for the defense.Because of Cousins’s role as a reliable constant, Davis is free to cover more ground without making risky moves to get back into plays. And because of that, his personal foul rate is at an all-time low (2.6 fouls per 100 possessions). This allows Davis to do what he does best — stick to his man, rotate to help in the paint without overextending, and blitz spot-up shooters on the perimeter faster than anyone else his size in the league. But despite the limitations, these metrics are a pretty good way to look at who’s having the best defensive season. A few players stand out on the list: Marcus Smart, Jaylen Brown and Al Horford, Boston CelticsThe Celtic defense has continued to crush opponents. Boston is 18-4, with a league-leading defensive rating (100), the second-lowest effective field goal percentage allowed (48.6) and a roster full of live-bodied defenders who can switch practically any assignment. Even Kyrie Irving is chipping in on the effort. But while every Celtic is doing his part, some parts are more critical than others. It’s undeniably been the play from Smart, Brown and Horford that has carried the Celts so far.Smart does not possess the most graceful set of skills, but what he provides is unmistakable to anyone watching. He’s all over the floor, hounding ball handlers, bodying up on bigger players in the post and bumping cutting players he isn’t even guarding, like a middle linebacker jamming a slot receiver.Brown is a little different. While the Boston defense is built on interchangeable pieces switching and denying an offense space, it also needs players who can stick to their man across multiple screens, then square up and check their man as he plants and drives. Brown has stepped into that role and dominated so far. He can fight over screens (or just outright avoid them) to allow the defense to keep its shape, and he has the quicks to shut down first steps with the length to challenge pull-up attempts.Horford, meanwhile, does not have nearly the same reputation as the other two, but this season, he looks livelier than he has in the past when making switches, and he has defended the most shots of any Celtic. The newfound agility in space is especially important — because the defense will semi-regularly ask him to survive on an island against a wing, but also because his role at the center of the defense requires him to scuttle shooters who’ve just run over two or three screens trying to escape Smart or Brown.
USCPac 10200512-12,061200611-22,003 *Season Score is a blend of a team’s final end-of-season Elo, its peak Elo and its overall average Elo throughout the season.Source: ESPN Year 1Year 2 SchoolConferenceYearRecordSeason Sc.YearRecordSeason Sc. PittsburghIndep.198011-12,002198111-12,012 UGA has been great … but not great enoughTeams since 1980 with a Season Score* of 2,000 in back-to-back seasons, but no national championship in either season AlabamaSEC201311-22,066201412-22,099 Ohio StateBig Ten201712-22,002201813-12,057 The hallmark of Georgia’s recent run under Smart might be how complete his teams are. According to ESPN’s Football Power Index, UGA had the nation’s fifth-best offense and third-best defense in 2017. They then inverted that with the third-best offense and fifth-best defense last season. The Bulldogs boasted not one but two 1,200-yard rushers (Nick Chubb and Sony Michel) back in 2017, when Fromm was a freshman, but they showcased more passing last season — with Fromm ranking as the third-best QB in the nation according to ESPN’s Total Quarterback Rating, trailing only Tagovailoa and Oklahoma’s Kyler Murray.Georgia does lose five starters apiece on offense and defense from last season, including cornerback Deandre Baker, who won 2018’s Jim Thorpe Award as the country’s top defensive back, and receivers Mecole Hardman and Riley Ridley. But Fromm’s return negates one of the biggest factors in an offense’s demise: losing the starting quarterback.According to data collected from the 2001 through 2017 seasons, a previously average offense that loses five starters including the QB would expect to be about 12 percent less efficient than before. However, if the team retains its signal-caller, it can basically expect to carry on without missing a beat — great news for an offense as strong as UGA’s last season. The same can be said for a defense that loses five starters between seasons; our research says that team can also expect no real drop-off in efficiency between seasons, generally speaking.And this Georgia team might be better equipped to handle moderate personnel losses than just about any other program. According to 247Sports.com’s Team Talent Composite, which adds up the total value of all the players on a roster based on their high school recruiting ratings, the Bulldogs rank third nationally going into the 2019 season with a score of 961.85 points. That’s effectively no different from last season, when UGA ranked third with a composite score of 963.87. Add in another year of seasoning for Fromm, who ranks as one of the top QB prospects in next spring’s NFL draft, and the fourth-most returning experience of any team in the SEC according to Phil Steele’s calculations, and the talent in Athens should rival that of almost any other team in the nation.However, one team that still may be running ahead of Georgia in that regard is the same rival that’s been a thorn in the Bulldogs’ side over the past few years: Alabama. The Crimson Tide have scored better than UGA in the Team Talent Composite for five consecutive seasons, and they are also ahead in ESPN’s early season projected FPI right now. It appears Georgia will need another breakthrough to join Clemson and Bama at the very top of the college football mountain, since the gap between Alabama at No. 2 and UGA at No. 3 (5.6 points) is the same as the gap between UGA and No. 10 Oregon.And that’s to say nothing of the Bulldogs’ crushing schedule strength. With games against Texas A&M and Notre Dame on tap, in addition to a trip to Auburn and what looks like a tougher-than-usual matchup with Florida, all before even potentially reaching the SEC title game for a third-straight season, it’s no surprise that FPI has Georgia’s schedule rated as the fourth-most difficult in the country this year. That’s even tougher than Alabama’s slate (which ranks 22nd), and it’s a big reason why FPI gives Georgia only a 2.7 percent chance of navigating through its regular-season schedule without a loss, while Bama has 15.3 percent chance of doing the same.But Georgia has also shown these past few seasons that it belongs squarely in the College Football Playoff conversation, even if it does lose a game during the regular season. Remember, in order to blow late leads over Alabama in crushing fashion, you first have to get late leads over Alabama — and the only other team that can say it has done that recently is Clemson. The Bulldogs have proven they can hang with the game’s top programs, and they have the talent to do it again. Now it’s up to Smart, Fromm and company to finally turn that potential into championship results this season. FloridaSEC19849-12,03319859-12,017 Florida StateIndep.198811-12,004198910-22,034 It’s hard to come closer to a national title without winning one than the Georgia Bulldogs did over the past two seasons. In 2017, UGA had a 20-7 second half lead over Alabama in the College Football Playoff Championship — at one point, ESPN’s win probability model gave the Dawgs a 92.5 percent chance of winning — before Bama backup QB Tua Tagovailoa led the Crimson Tide to an incredible comeback win. Last season, the Bulldogs were an elite team again, and yet again they had the Tide on the ropes in the second half of a hugely important game (this time the SEC Championship) before ultimately losing when a backup QB helped engineer another Alabama rally.1In Part II, it was Jalen Hurts relieving an injured Tagovailoa, in a role reversal that Hollywood would have laughed at if you’d pitched it in a movie script. UGA ultimately missed the playoff as a result, despite probably having enough talent to deserve inclusion.If, as they say, the third time is the charm, then this is it for head coach Kirby Smart and Georgia. The team has been good enough to win a championship in each of the previous two seasons, only to be thwarted by extraordinary circumstances — and an extraordinary opponent in the form of Smart’s old boss, Nick Saban. With junior quarterback Jake Fromm coming back for what might be the last time, this could be UGA’s most talented team yet under Smart. But can they finally break through in another college football season that figures to be dominated by Clemson and Alabama?Other teams from history have been as good as the 2017-18 Dawgs in consecutive seasons with zero titles to show for it — but it’s pretty rare. For each team in every season since 1980,2The 1980s can be viewed as the decade that kicked off college football’s true modern era; the Ivy League was moved out of Division I-A in 1982, for instance, while powerhouse programs gained more control over lucrative television revenues, making the sport resemble its professional counterpart more and more. I calculated a “Season Score” based on our Elo ratings. The Season Score takes three measures of a team’s performance — its end-of-season Elo; its average season-long Elo; and its peak Elo3The latter two of which are computed excluding a team’s first three games of the season, to avoid undue influence from preseason ratings (which are based largely on the previous season). — and averages them together to create a composite rating on the same scale as regular Elo, where the FBS average is about 1,500.A Season Score of 2,000 is very impressive; only 100 have happened since 1980, and 33 percent of those teams have won the national championship.4Counting split titles as half-championships. (The best Season Score belongs to Alabama in 2016 — ironically, a team that didn’t win the championship — with a mark of 2,229.) But a score of 2,000 in consecutive seasons is even rarer. Last season, Clemson, Alabama, Georgia and Ohio State joined the ranks of just 43 teams since 1980 to have back-to-back Season Scores of at least 2,000. All but eight of those teams — a number that includes both Georgia and Ohio State — failed to win at least a share of a championship in either season. OregonPac 12201112-22,008201212-12,025 GeorgiaSEC201713-22,077201811-32,007
In preparation for the 2015 NFL season, FiveThirtyEight is running a series of eight division previews, each highlighting the numbers that may influence a team’s performance (including projections and rankings based on ESPN’s preseason Football Power Index). Today we turn to the AFC South — perhaps the most imbalanced division in football. Andrew Luck’s Colts are potentially the league’s best team; the Texans, Jaguars and Titans are just hoping to keep things competitive. Bruce Gradkowski20.14-934.42-5 FIRST 13 STARTSREST OF STARTING CAREER Indianapolis Colts2014 Record: 11-5 | 2015 Projected Wins: 10.5 | Playoff Odds: 84.0%Offensive Rank: 2nd | Defensive Rank: 20th | Special Teams Rank: 17thSteadily, the Indianapolis Colts are climbing toward the Super Bowl. In Andrew Luck’s first two seasons under center, the team went from out of the playoffs to the wild card game in 2012 and then to the divisional round in 2013. And in 2014, a third straight 11-win season yielded a trip to the AFC Championship game. Now, the Colts enter 2015 with the AFC’s best chance (25.6 percent) of making Super Bowl 50, according to ESPN’s Football Power Index (FPI).But as much as that probability attests to Indy’s progress as a team, it’s also an indictment of the rest of the AFC South. Luck is the division’s only top-tier quarterback, the Colts are its only top-15 preseason FPI team, and Indianapolis is projected to play one of the easiest schedules in the AFC. So while the Colts have the NFL’s best odds to win their division (73.4 percent) and make the playoffs (84 percent), merely getting to the postseason out of a weak division is no longer enough.And in order for the team to reach the next stage in its ascent, Luck needs help. Last season, he was asked to do more than any other quarterback in the NFL, as the Indianapolis offense passed on 67 percent of its snaps. Saddled with that workload, Luck ranked first in touchdown passes but also 32nd (out of 33 qualified quarterbacks) in turnovers, with many of those miscues resulting from Luck trying to do too much.To take the pressure off of Luck, the Colts need to improve their running game. Last season, Indianapolis ranked seventh1According to TruMedia’s proprietary data, which I accessed as an employee of ESPN. in passing expected points added (EPA) per game but 29th in rushing EPA per game — the biggest such rankings disparity of any team in the NFL. The addition of running back Frank Gore is an upgrade over Trent Richardson,2Really, just about any running back would have been an upgrade over Richardson. but the offensive line, patchy at best (with 11 starting combinations) a year ago, needs to open more holes after ranking 22nd in yards before contact per rush.3A stat that quantifies both O-line run-blocking effectiveness and RB vision by measuring how far, on average, the ball carriers behind them make it before making first contact with a defender.As long as the Colts have a quarterback and the rest of the AFC South does not, they’ll have a successful season. In fact, with 10 games against what FPI considers the two weakest divisions in football (the NFC South and the rest of the AFC South), don’t be surprised if Indy earns the AFC’s No. 1 overall playoff seed.4A feat that FPI gives them an NFL-best 29 percent chance of achieving. But if the Colts want to keep rising ever closer to the league’s summit, they can’t rely on Luck alone. Kellen Clemens24.24-943.14-4 FiveThirtyEight is previewing the 2015 NFL season ahead of the first game of the year. Check out our coverage of every division » QUARTERBACKTOTAL QBRW-LTOTAL QBRW-L Tennessee Titans2014 Record: 2-14 | 2015 Proj. W: 5.7 | Playoff Odds: 5.3%Off. Rank: 29th | Def. Rank: 32nd | S.T. Rank: 5thGood luck finding a 2015 Tennessee Titans preview that doesn’t focus on the No. 2 overall pick in this past spring’s draft, quarterback Marcus Mariota. After a disappointing 2-14 season in which the Titans started three different QBs,18Jake Locker, Charlie Whitehurst and Zach Mettenberger — all of whom posted a below-average Total QBR. the Titans and their fans are counting on Mariota to step in and revive the offense.At least one projection system (full disclosure: it’s the one developed by my colleagues in ESPN’s Stats & Information Group) expects Mariota to be the top quarterback in his class by 2018, but there are bound to be growing pains as he adapts to the NFL. And even if we pretend Mariota has no trouble transitioning from the spread offense he operated with Heisman-winning efficiency at Oregon to Ken Whisenhunt’s more vertical, pro-style scheme, who is he going to throw to? And how will Tennessee’s rushers help take pressure off Mariota and the passing game?Fantasy rankings have their flaws (for instance, a team might have two good players at the same position), but they can serve as a decent proxy for evaluating individual offensive talent. And they build a pretty convincing case that the Titans possess the least-talented group of non-quarterback skill-position players in the NFL.For starters, Tennessee’s top-rated fantasy player — running back Bishop Sankey — ranks 95th in ESPN’s Fantasy Rankings,19All rankings are as of Sept. 3. 27 spots lower than any other team’s highest-ranked player. The rankings also assign a dollar value to each player (with replacement-level players20In fantasy football terms. receiving no value), and Tennessee’s entire roster of fantasy-eligible players21Including defenses, kickers and offensive skill-position players. is worth a whopping nine bucks. That’s the lowest of any team in the league — and $46 less than the value of Pittsburgh running back Le’Veon Bell, the most expensive player in ESPN’s rankings.After ranking 30th in offensive EPA per play22Again, including an adjustment that reduces the effects of blowouts. (and 29th defensively) last season, the Titans would truly need a “Super Mariota” performance to elevate this group into playoff contention. So though Mariota is getting all the headlines, the true determinant of Tennessee’s success may be whether any other player can step up to take some pressure off of its rookie QB. John Skelton28.98-511.00-4 There’s also no doubt that Bortles needs help. Last season, Jacksonville’s top pass catcher (Allen Hurns) ranked 67th in receiving yards, its top rusher (former quarterback Denard Robinson) ranked 30th in rushing yards and its offensive line ranked 29th in pass protection.16ESPN’s pass protection metric measures the percentage of pass plays in which the offensive line controls the line of scrimmage.Maybe the aforementioned Jaguars defense can come to Bortles’s aid. It ranked 17th in the NFL in EPA per play17This includes a weighting adjustment that downplays the effects of blowouts. and held opponents to the league’s 14th-lowest Total QBR last season. But even if the defense ascends into the NFL’s top 10, the offense will still likely be too much to overcome. That’s why FPI predicts that Jacksonville’s cycle of high draft picks will go unbroken, assigning the Jags a nearly 50 percent chance of picking in the top five for a fifth consecutive season. Jacksonville Jaguars2014 Record: 3-13 | 2015 Proj. W: 5.5 | Playoff Odds: 4.2%Off. Rank: 32nd | Def. Rank: 18th | S.T. Rank: 9thIt’s been four painful seasons since the Jacksonville Jaguars finished with a .500 record (they went 8-8 in 2010).10In fact, they haven’t had a .500 record at any point in a season since Week 2 of the 2011 season. During that span, the team has the worst record in the NFL (14-50) and hasn’t won more than five games in any season.Unfortunately for the Jaguars, that record cannot be attributed to bad luck — they also produced an NFL-low 15 pythagorean wins11A better measure of how many wins a team “deserves” after stripping away the luck of winning close games. — or a lack of draft picks. Despite Jacksonville picking in the top five of a record four consecutive NFL drafts, and having had at least one top-10 pick for eight years running, the talent gap between the Jaguars and the rest of the league continues to grow. And it isn’t likely to decrease in 2015: first-round pick Dante Fowler Jr. has already gone down with an ACL tear, while prized free-agent tight end Julius Thomas may be out until Week 4.Jacksonville’s defense isn’t awful (more on this later), which might offer hope. But as any football fan knows, today’s NFL is all about the quarterback, and in order for the Jaguars to take steps toward respectability, they need Blake Bortles to improve on the NFL-worst 25.2 Total QBR he put up in 2014.Based on an admittedly small sample, quarterbacks who start their careers as badly as Bortles has rarely get better. Going back to 2006,12The first year in which Total QBR can be calculated. there have been eight passers13Among the names on the list is Jacksonville’s previous first-round quarterback, Blaine Gabbert. (other than Bortles) who produced a Total QBR of 30.0 or worse through their first 13 starts.14Using data from only games in which the quarterback was his team’s starter. After such rough debuts, the octet combined for a winning percentage of 38.1 and an average Total QBR of 29.7 in their subsequent starts; only Mark Sanchez started more than 16 additional games.15In fairness, these guys’ careers aren’t uniformly over, so they may start again someday. But only Geno Smith and Bortles were projected to be starters going into training camp, and Smith’s status as starter was short-lived. Houston Texans2014 Record: 9-7 | 2015 Proj. W: 8.5 | Playoff Odds: 43.2%Off. Rank: 23rd | Def. Rank: 4th | S.T. Rank: 21stThe Houston Texans are so defined by their best player that the latest edition of “Hard Knocks” should have been renamed “The J.J. Watt Show.” Last season Watt, the NFL’s reigning Defensive Player of the Year, became the first player since 19825The season the NFL began to officially tally sacks. to post multiple 20-sack seasons in a career, and his impact goes beyond just pressuring the quarterback.Watt led the league in batted passes,6Based on ESPN’s video tracking. fumbles recovered and tackles for loss. Add in five total touchdowns (the most by a defensive lineman in a season since 1944), and it’s not surprising that Watt led the entire league in Approximate Value (AV), Pro-Football-Reference.com’s cross-positional player value metric. He’s also produced more AV through his first four seasons combined than any other defender since the common draft era began in 1967.In other words, Watt might be the best player in football today. And with the Texans adding Vince Wilfork and a healthy Jadeveon Clowney to line up alongside him, Houston’s defense could be even more dominant than it was last season, when it ranked second in defensive EPA.But will any of that matter if Houston’s quarterbacks can’t pass the ball?While developing FPI for the NFL, ESPN’s Stats & Information Group needed a way to estimate each team’s quarterback quality for the upcoming season in order to account for QB injuries when making predictions. The solution: for each starting quarterback (and his backup), FPI generates a per-game EPA projection based on his past performance.7Adjusted for age. In Houston’s case, starting quarterback Brian Hoyer ranks 27th out of 32 expected starters in projected EPA.8Only Josh McCown, Derek Carr, Blake Bortles and rookies Jameis Winston and Marcus Mariota are lower. Compared with an average starter, Hoyer is expected to cost the Texans about 2.9 points per game. To put that in perspective, if he were an average QB instead, the Texans would rise from 16th overall in preseason FPI to seventh (and fourth in the AFC).There is good news for Houston, though: FPI projects its schedule to be the AFC’s easiest, with interconference games against the historically awful NFC South. Last season, the AFC North drew that division and ended up placing three teams in the playoffs.9It went 12-3-1 versus the NFC South and 26-22 against other divisions. With that schedule and Watt spearheading the fourth-best projected defense in football (according to FPI), Houston might get back to the playoffs in spite of its poor quarterbacking. Mark Sanchez27.46-736.831-26 Read more: 2015 NFL Previews Blaine Gabbert21.03-1024.02-12 JaMarcus Russell23.33-1017.64-8 Blake Bortles24.73-10—— Brandon Weeden29.75-818.90-8 Geno Smith27.76-751.95-11
“A lot of times with those big-depth breaking balls, those sliders that sweep across the front of the zone, they go in and out of the zone,” Garver said. “They are very hard to catch. You have to learn how to catch them properly. I wanted to get underneath the ball when I’m receiving it.”The most conspicuous change Swanson suggested Garver make was employing a variety of one-knee, Tony Peña-style stances, which had gone out of fashion in the professional game. Going lower, Swanson reasoned, would help a catcher get more favorable calls on lower pitches. “We didn’t invent the one-knee setup,” he said. “But those were traditionally done with nobody on base and less than two strikes.”When runners are on base, catchers are taught to go to what Swanson calls a “secondary” stance, sitting higher to position themselves better for throwing out a runner or blocking a ball in the dirt. What Swanson proposed was going to a knee on all counts, even if it adversely affected the ability to throw or block balls.“Only a fraction of the time does the ball actually land in the dirt. Only a fraction of the time does a runner actually try to steal,” Swanson said. “Catchers across the league perform worse … with runners on base. We’ve tried to flip it upside-down.”Since the value of framing is tied to compelling borderline pitches to be called as strikes, FiveThirtyEight examined available Statcast data on called strikes and balls on the edge of the strike zone and the zones just off the plate. The data shows that catchers do receive less favorable calls when runners are on base. That was true of the Twins, too, until this year, when the one-knee stance came to Minnesota.The Twins rank 12th in the majors in pitch framing this season, and Garver is up to 23rd out of 110 catchers. He has used his new stance to better “absorb” borderline pitches, and his frequency of called strikes caught has become more concentrated in the lower zone. As he returned home to New Mexico last winter, Mitch Garver knew he had to be better. In 2018, Garver ranked 110th out of 117 qualifying catchers in fielding runs above average. As a catcher, that meant he struggled mightily with pitch framing18.6 runs saved below average. As measured by Baseball Prospectus, framing is a component of fielding runs above average for catchers. — the skill of a catcher to receive borderline pitches in a way that allows them to get favorable called strikes.Garver turned 28 in January. He had been only a league-average hitter at the plate and a liability behind it. He knew that if he couldn’t receive the ball better, his career would be in jeopardy. He had heard that a coach hired the previous season was working miracles with the Twins’ minor league catchers. So Garver called Tanner Swanson and invited him to Albuquerque.“It’s the only reason I’m still catching,” Garver told FiveThirtyEight. “Really.”The Twins have surprised MLB with their offense this year, with a record five batters — including Garver — hitting 30 home runs as the team broke the single-season home run record in August.2Though the Yankees have overtaken the home run lead. Minnesota is the only major league team with four position players among the top 35 qualifiers in year-to-year gains of wins above replacement. Among those Twins, Garver is the most improved, and he’s the seventh-most-improved player in all of baseball.But Garver’s improvement with his glove has been just as dramatic as his work with his bat. This season, Garver has been worth 4.4 fielding runs above average, achieving the fifth-greatest improvement in the metric.3Among catchers with at least 200 plate appearances in both 2018 and 2019. Per plate appearance, his performance in wins above replacement, which includes framing value, ranks as the eighth-best mark in baseball.The growth with his glove is where Swanson comes in. Swanson never played catcher in college, nor had he coached professionally when he joined the Twins organization in late 2017. But he spent six years working with college catchers at the University of Washington and Santa Clara University, and he attracted the attention of Jeremy Zoll, the Twins’ director of minor league operations, after a presentation Swanson gave at a catching coaching clinic.“I kind of had a clean slate to look at it objectively. I didn’t carry all these biases — ‘Well, this is how I used to do it. This is how I was taught,’” Swanson said. “I think a lot of times as coaches, we have these drill packages that we’ve compiled and we don’t truly understand the ‘why’ or question whether a particular drill leads to improvement.”Since the late 2000s, when analysts first quantified the value of pitch framing, more teams have started to prize catchers who can get more favorable calls for their pitchers. After all, every pitch matters: The difference in batting average on a 2-1 count and a 1-2 count is 178 points this season. Teams began paying for the skill. In 2016, the Twins were graded as the fifth-worst framing team in baseball. One of Derek Falvey’s first acquisitions after being hired as GM late in 2016 was signing pitch-framer extraordinaire Jason Castro. But Swanson believed that framing was not only an innate gift — it could be taught.Swanson employed drills using weighted balls, implements typically reserved for pitchers, to help Twins catchers improve their hand speed and movement patterns. “You’re dealing with timing and getting the ball from point A to B. The faster we can do that the more deceptive we are,” Swanson said. “I don’t want to say fool umpires but [rather] to influence them to call borderline pitches as strikes. That’s their primary job.”Going into this season, Garver graded as a poor receiver on balls in the lower part of the strike zone and below. Swanson said that’s a problem in today’s game, with record rates of breaking balls and changeups — pitches that typically either cross low in the zone or below it. “[Garver] deserves the credit. His desire to improve didn’t stop once he got to the big leagues,” Swanson said. After all, Swanson notes, “He called me.”Check out our latest MLB predictions.